I know this is not going to sound good, but as they are wont to say online, hear me out. I made a conscious decision Friday night to walk away from the Reading Blues Fest, because I quite honestly have had enough.
It is not merely because of the incident, which really was not much of an incident at all, but just due to the constant feeling that any effort to do something is not appreciated, nor wanted. That's how I feel, even though I'm likely incorrect on most levels.
I'm no stranger to music festivals, conventions, events, and so forth. I go to a few cons each year to promote my books, to make contact with potential new readers, and to find guests for my show on the BookSpeak Network (see what I did there?). I am well aware that I will not clean up when I'm dealing with dozens of vendors in a big space. It's a big networking party, largely, and they are a lot of fun...usually.
They are a long haul. Ask anyone in a band what it's like to travel from town to town, night after night, putting on your best and creating that magic. Well, we do the same thing, only you never see it. We're behind the scenes, writing, editing, and doing our work, for ourselves, or in many cases for others who you pay to see.
My appearances at the Blues Fest the last few years are due to 1) close proximity to me; 2) I can usually set up my work schedule to accommodate it; and 3) because I love the music, and anything that makes my Friday afternoon blues program on Radio-Airwaves Station sound a little bit better and more interesting is worth doing. It helps the artists, not just that you play their music, but that you interview them, write about them, talk about them, and give people something new to listen to, to open their ears to.
We on the same page so far? Good. I do not have the time, wherewithal or the money to afford what has now become very big business. The music festivals can be great fun, you get a few days away, hang out with old friends, make new friends, see your favorite artists, and get exposed to new ones. Just like the "blues cruises," you get a mini-vacation, and memories to last your lifetime.
All predicated on, unfortunately, whether or not you can afford it. I realize that inflation is not going away and that everything costs more, and even a non-profit like the producers of the Berks Blues and Jazz Fests has to think about that. You have to pay the bands, pay the venues, pay the taxes, pay for a lot of things. I get it. That said, it's pricing too many people out of the equation.
So what the fuck happened? Okay, end of a long work week and I head up there for the opening. Bear in mind, I have a "Media" pass. That's all I've got. I am thankful to have it. That pass opens doors, but not all doors. It allows me some freedom to move, but I am not covering where I have to do updates or anything of the sort. I can go when I want, talk to who I like if I can get them to do an interview. Most artists are really cool, especially in the blues world.
I'm not one of these people who tries to get too close anymore. Never been good at it; I pick my spots. I found a seat in the hotel bar to write my new book while watching Kevin Burt open the whole thing. I played Kevin's last album on my program, and he was fantastic.
I also spoke to him before the set, and he was really nice. I was introduced to him by a fellow named Michael (I still don't know his last name), who had seen me around and we knew each other. He tipped me to the leader of his current band, a man named James Barnes, who has a new album. I'll be talking with him this week. And then, look who shows up?
Lil' Ed Williams of (Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials) rolled in for his Saturday set early. He joined Kevin, and they sang together. Really cool.
This promises to be a fun night. Jimmy Vivino and his band are playing in the ballroom, with Bruce Katz and others. So just after 8 pm, I head to the ballroom. Never once have I ever had a problem: my pass lets me go into the ballroom. I don't need a seat; I plan to watch, report, take a few pics from a distance, shoot some short videos, and enjoy the show, like every show.
And then I am accosted by one of several volunteers at the door. Now...volunteers make this thing go. They work incredibly hard to make things run smoothly, and I've never had an unkind word with any of them. Even at this moment, but I certainly didn't expect this.
One of the volunteers looked at my pass, and said, "You can't go in there."
Excuse me? I've always gone in, people enter and exit all the time. This lady then defers to one of the others there, and this man looks at my pass and says that pass does not allow me into the ballroom where the performers are playing.
Now...someone who is there, not for himself, but to report on the shows, to document them, to talk about them, and to give fans an idea of what's happening...is not allowed inside the very venue they are there to cover?
Excuse me? Imagine what I'm thinking right now. 25 years ago I would have gone off and used some words not meant for polite conversation. I didn't. I was honestly stunned and thought someone has made a mistake, or there is some kind of rule I don't know about, or they've changed the concept so that only the high-paying punters who throw down hundreds of bucks for the VIP packages are now only allowed to be in the clubhouse.
So I try to think...the only person I can think of is the GM, and I could have (in second-guessing) asked them to contact him and get this taken care of. I didn't know where he was, but I figured he was inside the venue. I did not know who to turn to in this case.
I could just sit outside alone and listen, or go back to an empty bar and wait 2+ hours for James Supra and trio, which I would like to have heard. But no, screw it. I left.
I did not want to be the one who demanded to "see the manager," and I did not give those people anything to use against me, in word, deed, etc. I walked. I decided it was not worth my time to go all the way out there, prepare for this, lay down my own money for everything because I am a fan of the music and the artists, and I wanted in a small way to help them.
Doing this does not sell my books. It does not make me money, it does not get me clicks, it does not get me anything. I do it to help them, and to make my show sound just a little different. Yes, I get to see old friends, and yes, I get to hear music you don't get to hear on commercial radio, and you get it live. These people are among the best in their business; they are professionals, and people deserve to hear them and know about them.
One more thing: I do not flash my pass. I am not one of these, "I AM THE MEDIA" people. I do my job, and I do this for the reasons I've explained. I don't expect VIP treatment, I don't expect a paid-for suite in the hotel, I don't expect meal and drink passes or exclusive sit-downs and meet and greets. I'm not with Rolling Stone, and I have zero interest in any of that. I like being able to move about, sit in the back if I want or hang out somewhere if I want. I don't drink, so you're not going to have that problem with me.
Can you imagine if one of the local TV or newspaper reporters had this happen to them? Can you imagine if a writer for "Living Blues" or "Blues Blast" one of the music magazines that really matters in this business had this happen to them? Think of what they would write--I would not blame them one damn bit.
Now back to the people you see at these events. Mostly, you will see the best of them. Sure, a few get too oiled, a few get too loud, a little dumb, but that's 1% of the group if that.
Anyway, I could have been stubborn. I could have bitched about it, but not worth it. On Saturday, instead of driving all the way up there again and demanding action, I did something better. I went to a book signing at the Reader's Cafe in Hanover, where my friend J.K. Weyant was doing a book signing. I've had J.K. on my podcast and been with her at events; she's a delightful person and a fine writer. Shameless plug: the first book of her series is "Dragon's Pick," and I endorse it.
The person who is taking charge of the festivals did write a note to me this morning and he apologized. He explained how things were meant to run, and he gave the volunteers a heads-up about what happened, etc. All well and good, but based on this and past events in different places, I'm done.
Yes, I could have been a stubborn person, gone back, demanded access and maybe even got it. I'd have seen Lil' Ed, Ruthie Foster for a second time, and seen people like J.P. Soars, Arlen Roth and more. But I just decided not worth it.
I do not intend to go back to the Blues Fest, either as a reporter or as a fan. I'm not saying you shouldn't, either--that is up to you. But having been kicked out of an event that I was on the card for on a false pretense, and having been accused of something I was found not to have done at another place--it is no longer worth my time and effort.
The events are great, and they are needed. It's just the bullshit around it that makes these things unappealing. I'll be glad to play the artists' music, interview them, promote them, champion them, and I don't need any thanks for it. I do it because I love this music, and it has inspired me to write my books, my own music, and it has helped me in time of need. Music does that, and it should do that.
I now choose to help, in my own way. There's only one place left around here I actually feel welcome in. Like I say, I don't think I ask for much, but this was the last straw.
Good luck to those who put these things on, and put up with a lot to make them work. I no longer need this experience.